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Cool Architectural Alternatives For Living Without Air Conditioning

July 18, 2013

55 Blair Road by Silver+Ong


With the heatwave sweeping the country, an urban air conditioning addiction is also on the rise. For those of us lucky enough to have it at work or at home, the generated air is an easy (if pricey) comfort that often leaves us avoiding the foreign realm of the outdoors. However, air conditioning wasnt always there for us to fall back on so easily. Believe it or not, architecture can help us alleviate some of the heat. The advent of the air conditioner not only meant less sweat; it also changed the very way that we live, and the buildings we live, work, and play in. Cool porches and deep eaves were unnecessary, walls could be thinner, high ceiling and attics were a waste of space, and development could generally spread into increasingly hot climates. Such temperature control also allowed for steel and glass towers of greenhouselevel-heat to become a practical notion. Prior to this luxury though, if you werent submerged in water, buildings actually needed to pitch in with the job of cooling during the summer. Here is a collection of homes that show features that could help you to build your way out of heatstroke. Oh, and also: climate change.

Cave Dwellings: Chair House by Igor Sirotov Architect There is a reason why people started by living in caves. The thermal mass of the huge volume of earth surrounding caves helps to stabilize temperature inside. Plus, it looks awesome.

Underground: BCHO Earth House by BCHO Architects Associates

Same goes for buildings that are constructed underground. Not only is the sun stopped from entering the interior, but the earth that surrounding the building is slow to heat up and cool down, also making it warmer in the cold months.

Thick Earthen Walls: Sagburg by contexture studio Alternatively, thick walls of earth or masonry were used instead of burying the entire building. Green roofs/walls such as this one on the Sagburg project by contexture studio are now being praised for their reduction of the heat island effect when used in an urban context. This house is actually fully passive and contains additional strategies such as triple glazing and geothermal heating and cooling that bring it to passivhaus standards.

Porches: OutsideIN Hose by Fernanda Vuilleumier Arquitectura Believe it or not, this metal-class house also has heavy emphasis on passive strategies, paying particular attention to heating, cooling, and day lighting. However, it is the long-lost element of the porch that is particularly interesting, seeing as this was often used as a cooling strategy before air conditioning. Correct positioning of porches not only shade in the summer, but also encourage cross-ventilation through the house.

Trees: Hayes Residence by Travis Price Architects Although all that (single-glazed) glass may not be the best move in terms of thermal conduction, the trees that surround (and are surrounded by) the Hayes Residence help to keep out the sun from the house in the summer. As deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, this natural brise-soleil lets in plenty of light (and, one hopes, heat) in the winter. We also hope there is secret insulation in this house.

Ventilation Strategy: Axis Administration by Krishna Chaitanya Dommu Cross ventilation can help to quickly push unwanted hot air out of house interiors without the aid of fans. The Axis Administration by Krishna Chaitanya Dommu does this by using a double-facade system that uses the buffer zone in-between to encourage the circulation of cool, fresh air through the building.

High Ceilings and Attics: House in Yoro by Airhouse Design Office Hot air rises. Buildings like the House in Yoro by Airhouse Design Office make use of this stack effect by giving inhabitable spaces really tall ceilings.

Towers: Tower House by Andersson Wise Architects Towers were often incorporated into buildings to catch breezes and increase air circulation. Not sure how well this works if the whole building itself is the tower, but we think this Tower House by Andersson Wise Architects looks cool either way.

Water: 55 Blair Road by Silver+Ong The romans were especially good at keeping away summer heat using water in their buildings. Not only would they channel water from aqueducts through the walls of their homes (like under-floor heating but the complete opposite), but the typical house layout would also always include a pool of water within the courtyard. Evaporating water helps to remove heat (although not in all climates), and the placement in between the main rooms of the house disperses the cool air through the entire interior.

Passive: Passivhaus Vogel by Diethelm & Spillmann Architects The contemporary attempt at combining all these elements is the passivhaus, which uses a specific set of guideline to dictate construction. Ideally active heating and cooling is minimized, and the house itself is what stabilizes temperatures. Have a look at some of the other passive houses that can be found on our database!